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Strange Book of Beasts and 'ghost' photograph discovered

Posted on 18/01/2019 in Press Coverage

Weird monsters in a newly discovered Edwardian children’s Book of Beasts are worthy of a Harry Pottery novel, according to an antiquarian books expert.

In fact, one of the creatures illustrated in The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts, which dates back to 1905, is called Dumble.

Professor Dumbledore, a fictional character in J K Rowling's Harry Potter series, is headmaster of wizard school Hogwarts.

Jim Spencer, antiquarian books expert at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, where the book will be sold on January 22, said: “This 114-year-old book is hugely compelling. You can’t help but compare the imaginative drawings and descriptions of beasts to the work of some of our most famous children’s authors, such as J K Rowling and Roald Dahl.


“The weird and wonderful creatures, with names like Muskinoo and Pigwonkel, are fascinating to behold. You have to consider that they were created decades before exposure to the cinematic, TV and video influences we routinely see today.”

The book features 32 illustrations of fantastical creatures, each accompanied by a brief satirical description and a page of comic verse.

Mr Spencer said: “There is, for example, a creature who 'is so inflated with the sense of his own importance, that his feet only touch the ground when he condescends’.”

The work is housed in an exercise book, inscribed Unnatural History, belonging to Joyce Mary Williams. The main title page records the illustrator as Jimmy Smite and the final drawing in the book depicts him.


The work, which includes two more illustrations of beasts loosely inserted, is 'Dedicated by kind permission to Joyce and Denis by The Author and The Illustrator, 1905, Swanage and London'.

“Curiously, among the ephemera that comes with this book is a late-Victorian photograph of a ghost, a lady in Georgian dress,” said Mr Spencer. “It’s all rather mysterious.”

The lot also includes Edwardian letters and drawings by children, genealogical research/correspondence and photos of Joyce, who the book is dedicated to.

Mr Spencer said: “Some of the ephemera relates to London publishing firm Williams & Norgate. Joyce was the daughter of one of the owners. It’s not clear who wrote this book or why but their century-old ideas would have been a hit today. I know that because when I posted some of the illustrations on my Twitter account there was a great response.”

The book and related ephemera, Lot 3305, has a guide price of £1,500 to £2,000. It will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on January 22. To find out more, email [email protected].

Entries are invited until March 8 for Hansons Spring Fine Art Library Auction. To arrange a valuation, call 01283 733988 or email [email protected]